The 1964 UFO "landing" in Socorro, NM has been one of the most famous UFO cases for almost a half century now and should remain so for as long as curious people continue to earnestly investigate the possibility that Earth has been visited by extraterrestrials. I believe that this case was a prank pulled off by New Mexico Institute of Mining And Technology students based on three reasons:
1. Anthony Bragalia's research. Part One Part Two Part Three
2. The geography of the landing site. Perfect for pulling off such an illusion.
3. Lonnie Zamora's detailed Blue Book account.
I think Mr. Zamora was a great and honest witness. He recounted exactly what he saw on April 24, 1964 when he was an officer on duty for the Socorro Police Department. I think most UFO witnesses do. If anything, I think this is a great case to hold up as an example of credible UFO witnessing. Unfortunately, it's also a great example of how an event can be perverted by others.
What happened is other people's exaggerated versions of Mr. Zamora's account bled into this case as it's now remembered and, yes, that is a problem for UFO research but doesn't reflect on UFO witnesses in general or Mr. Zamora specifically.
Remember Kenneth Arnold openly complained about the same thing although he stayed in the field while Mr. Zamora just sought to go on about his business.
It all started innocently enough. I had watched most of the UFO documentaries on the various cable networks over the years but began to take an active interest in the phenomenon after the publicity surrounding Edgar Mitchell's appearance at the National Press Club this past spring. I developed a particular interest in UFOs during the Truman presidency.
Reading up on the internet, I began to notice that a lot of the really interesting new stories being developed came from the same guy, Anthony Bragalia.
I decided to drop him an email saying I appreciated his work. He's not the first UFO researcher I've done this with and hopefully not the last. He responded and suggested that if I ever came across anything relating to the Battelle Memorial Institute or Clyde Williams, its' director in the years following the Roswell crash, to let him know. So I did a quick search, found a few links and took a closer look. One thing that caught my attention was Williams' correspondence with Linus Pauling. Pauling's was a name I hadn't thought about in years but I was well aware of who he was and decided to do another simple search on his name and UFOs just for the hell of it.
Right near the top of the search results, I found this link to a Pauling related blog site and gave it a look, including the Stirling Colgate, NMINT's president at the time, correspondence with Pauling regarding the Socorro case which expressed his view that it was a hoax pulled off by his engineering students. Great stuff of course and I passed my findings on to Bragalia and wrote up my own opinions on Pauling's outline for a UFO study. Let me make clear I never regarded the Socorro case as a visit from extraterrestrials. From what I knew of it, the noise, flames and persons wearing coveralls Mr. Zamora recounted ruled that out in my mind. Mr. Zamora clearly ruled that out as well when he said, "Well, I didn't think it was an object from outer space because I don't believe in those things."
I believed Mr. Zamora, but I just figured it was some sort of experimental lander, certainly not an elaborate prank. I laughed at the idea until Bragalia started making direct contacts and made those results known, took a closer look at the actual "landing" site and, most importantly, read Mr. Zamora's own documented account very carefully. They "must have been some engineering students" I jokingly wrote to Bragalia early on. Well, they were! I know Bragalia was skeptical too, but where I blew the whole thing off, he picked up the phone, did the work and found the true story. He deserves the credit and certainly not the abuse that's been thrown his way by some frauds who lurk within the UFO field.
This isn't the first time a hoax claim has been associated with the Socorro sighting. Air Force investigators on the scene suggested to J. Allen Hynek that it was a hoax. Harvard astronomer Donald Menzel claimed it was a hoax pulled off by local high school kids. Not a chance in hell high school kids could have pulled this prank off. Notorious and irresponsible debunker Phil Klass said it was a hoax and went so far as to name Mr. Zamora and Socorro's mayor, Holm Bursum, as conspirators in it. Their motivation was, according to Klass, turning the site into a tourist attraction and cashing in, an incredibly loathsome and unsubstantiated claim and certainly not true.
So what did happen? I invite you all to click this link and read Lonnie Zamora's actual account of what happened that day and see for yourself how it fits like a hand in a glove with the hoax/prank explanation. Above you see a map of the area. Of course all the housing wasn't there in 1964 and the roads were different but I'm comfortable this is a fairly good representation of the scene which you can compare to this map and this one. I'll make my points below, but do keep Mr. Zamora's account open in another window.
1-Mr. Zamora is initially led toward the scene by a speeding black Chevrolet driven by a "boy about seventeen." Consistent with a college aged student.
2-Mr. Zamora's attention is drawn to a roar and flame in the sky. Is it the bait to draw him towards the magic show that awaits or the second in a series of incredible coincidences?
3-Mr. Zamora first sees the vehicle, represented by the white dot, and the two people in coveralls. One of them "seemed startled--seemed to jump quickly somewhat." Startled or attempting to make sure they were seen? Also notice he puts legs, when referring to the legs of the vehicle, in quotes. At this point, I approximate Mr. Zamora's position at the blue dot in the above map but feel free to compare it with the others I've linked to. He also notes that the quick look was the only time he saw people near the vehicle.
4-Mr. Zamora then drives closer to the vehicle but the road that leads him closer is also separated from the vehicle by a hill that obstructs his view of it. He parked and then "got out of car and started to go down to where I knew the object (car) was." This phrase only makes sense if he can't see the vehicle from where he was as he was driving closer and parked his car, which in fact he couldn't. The view of the scene below evidences this. He parks to the right of the hill as you can see the vehicle sitting in the arroyo.
You can see how the hill blocks his view and the time he took to drive from the blue point, where he first saw the vehicle and two people, to the yellow point, where he parked his patrol car, gave the pranksters enough time to gather up what they needed to and escape easily in the opposite direction.
5-Mr. Zamora got his closest view of the vehicle as it flew away and described it as follows: "It looks like a balloon." He was right about that.
To be certain of anything other than the prank/hoax explanation you have to accept some extraordinary coincidences. An advanced craft, either Earthly or not, had to have landed on the outskirts of Socorro just as Mr. Zamora was chasing a speeding teenager in that direction. The vehicle's occupants, already walking around the immediate landing area are startled by Mr. Zamora seeing them and scramble back into their vehicle, which Mr. Zamora did not see, and took off for the nearby White Sands Missile Range, which in fact isn't nearby at all, it's 80 miles away, or back to their home planet. The final coincidence is the site itself, geographically perfect to pull off such an illusion. Of all the places on Earth an experimental or alien craft could have landed, they chose that one at 5:45 PM on a Friday afternoon on April 24, no more than a month before college finals.
The hoax/prank explanation hardly paints Mr. Zamora to be a fool. In fact, it's just the opposite. The pranksters counted on Mr. Zamora to do his job the right way. It's his detailed account that reveals that fundamental elements of magic were at work that day.
Vanishing-Mr. Zamora saw two people and then they were gone. "They must have gotten on the ship!" No, they simply ran in the opposite direction Mr. Zamora approached from. Mr. Zamora never said he saw them get on the ship.
Transformation-A ship with "legs" sits on the ground and then flies away with "legs" no longer visible. "The "legs" must have retracted into the ship!" No, they were simply lightweight props, possibly cardboard, that were simply carried away by the pranksters.
Levitation-The craft flew away. "It must be an advanced aircraft, possibly from another planet!" No, it was a balloon.
It was a magic trick so good that it's fooling people who didn't even see it almost a half century after it was executed. We don't know just yet who the pranksters were, but that doesn't matter to me. If there's a riot on Main Street and I walk down Main Street the next day and see a busted out storefront window, I don't need to know specifically who did it to be pretty certain that rioters were responsible. I do think that if the actual pranksters are identified at least one of them will have a deep interest or background in stage magicianship.
Preposterous claims such as the vehicle leaving the area in excess of 2000 MPH have been made regarding this case and are believed by some as truth. Mr. Zamora never says any such thing. These claims merely muddy the waters and make the truth that much more difficult to find. The primary source of those claims, Ray Stanford, is simply not credible and has a track record of making equally ridiculous claims in every field he sticks his beak into which you can verify for yourself by doing an internet search on his name.
I think Mr. Zamora gave an honest and highly accurate account of what he saw in 1964. I think the Socorro case is an excellent incident to point to in regards to the honesty of UFO witnesses but it also remains a cautionary tale for people who are serious about the UFO phenomenon. We all must always look deeper and not take at face value the preposterous claims of bullshit artists who attempt to profit from that interest.
UPDATE: I really want to thank Steve Sawyer (Anonymous) for posting the link to this article. It's a very good compilation of some reports that have not been readily available on the internet.
I'd like to point at Sgt. David Moody's report where he writes, "Sgt Chavez then went to the area where the craft or thing was supposedly sighted and found four fresh indentations in the ground and several charred or burned bushes. Smoke appeared to come from the bush and he assumed that it was burning, however no coals were visible and the charred portions of the bush were cold to the touch."
Investigator J. Allen Hynek added, ". . . the burning seemed to be sporadic. Clumps of grass in close proximity to the burned ones were untouched, while others just a short distance away from the unburned ones were again burned."
Very interesting revelations and consistent with site preparation by pranksters well before the actual event.
Now onto the matter of footprints or lack thereof. This part of the equation has troubled me and I have not addressed it, but it occurred to me today that if I wanted to create fake "legs" for a spaceship and leave the area without leaving footprints, I think I'd employ something similar to the technique you see above and kill two birds with one stone.
Also note that in Mr. Zamora's two drawings, he only draws two legs.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: There's been some debate about the meaning of the insignia on the vehicle Zamora reported and after mulling it over awhile, I'm quite convinced it's nothing more than a "This End Up" indicator that would help people get an uninflated balloon situated properly on the ground before it was inflated.
Whoever the manufacturer of the balloon was would have been selling them world wide, so no English would be used, but the insignia would communicate which end was up pretty easily in any language . . . . and also provide another bit of evidence that the vehicle was manufactured here on Earth.
So the red marking on the vehicle isn't a symbol. It isn't an insignia. It isn't a corporate logo. It's an instruction.